Combat Design – Complexity

A large part of game design involves designing various systems – rules that determine how a game works.  I’ve already mentioned that combat needs variety – tactical and strategic choices – to keep combat interesting.  However the system of rules must itself follow a set of rules to make a good game.  The combat system must balance the choices provided with the complexity of the rules.

When I design the rules for Heroes of a Broken Land’s combat system I take following points into consideration:

  • Interesting Choices
  • Understandable
  • Approachable & Presentable

You need enough complexity to provide interesting choices.  If you combat system only allows a single action it’s not very interesting.  If you allow too many actions you confuse the player, or inflict them with paralysis of choice.  I’ve mentioned this before.

The game’s system of rules must be understandable to the player.  While many of the calculations and underlying logic of a game are always hidden from the player in a game, you still make rules generally understandable to a player.  For example, the exact damage calculation does not need to be exposed, however the general rules (damage is based on weapon type or a creature’s attack power) must be simple enough the player can understand and manipulate them.

Playing a game where the rules are too complex to understand is a frustrating experience.  In Heroes of a Broken Land the equations used in calculating damage are hidden, however the strength of a character can be simplified into only two understandable numbers: attack & defense.  Increased attack increases damage inflicted, increasing defense reduces damage taken, simple.

Games are also audio visual experiences. Not only must the player understand the system to some degree, the system must be presentable to the player.  Essentially this involves figuring out a way to showing the player the outcome of their choices in combat.  Fortunately RPG players are accustomed to seeing numbers thrown at them, making presenting the outcome of combat simple: just show some numbers on screen.

If properly designed, following the above rules will allow even a complex rule set to seem simple.  That’s the goal of Heroes of a Broken Land’s combat – complex enough to provide interesting choice, but designed so that it appears simple and understandable.